Everyone has a favorite spot, right? But what are the spots we call our favorites? Spots we’ve been a million times? Places we’re intimately familiar with? Is there something more to a “favorite spot?” I like my home. I’m comfortable there. I like (to a degree) my computer desk. I (occasionally) get things done there. I like my hometown too, mostly.
While I like my home and my town and my computer desk, I wouldn’t call any one of them my favorite spot. They’re good, but they don’t warrant the elevated status the word “favorite” confers. There needs to be something exclusive, fascinating, and mysterious about a location for it to be called a favorite. It needs to be more special and less “everyday”. It needs a little magic.
One spot that ticks all these boxes for me is a short stretch at the bottom of Cataract Canyon. Right in the middle of a set of rapids called Mile Long, (7 rapids in under a mile). Right there, just above the infamous Big Drop rapids, the canyon is narrow and deep and cliff walls run up vertically almost from the water’s edge. As a river guide I’ve been past it hundreds of times, but that magic doesn’t wear off – it seems trapped there, as if it were running down the sheer cliffs and gathering in the eddies at the river’s edge, just swirling and bubbling along.
The magic may be just lazing about in the shallows at the river’s edge, but I’m usually not. I rarely get the chance to look around and actually see that section of canyon – to drink it in. Right there, in the middle of Mile Long, as a guide, I’m mentally recovering from the excitement of running a few large rapids upstream and simultaneously preparing for a few larger rapids downstream. I’m focused on the task at hand. I’m watching for rocks and waves and looking ahead at the river, paying attention to currents and waves and the other rafts with me. In short, I’m busy.
As busy as I am in that stretch, I try to look up. I try to see the cliffs, the rocks, the dramatic colors and shapes. I know that the south side of the canyon in that spot usually appears darker red – almost purple – from the shadows that play and chase each other around the top of the canyon wall. I know that in spring there’s yucca and cactus dotting that south talus slope like little green islands in a red rock ocean. I know that up high on the sunny, north side the rocks are faded and a lighter shade of red with burnished pink and pale-yellow stripes running down like paint dripping and fusing in a way only nature can conjure up. I know there’s an inscription on the right that reads “Eddy Expedition.”
Even though I know all this exists, every time I float through this 20 minutes of whitewater and colorful rock, it’s as if I’m seeing it for the first time. Every time I tell myself, “Look up. Pay attention. This is an awesome section of canyon.” And I do. I look around and I try to swallow it all and memorize every rock and ripple, but somehow it never settles. Every time I’m there it’s new, and bright, and fun all over again. It’s a section of canyon that’s slightly foreboding, a little bit exotic, and always exciting. It’s an intoxicating mix of foreign and familiar – it’s got a little magic to it, and it’s always one of my favorite spots.